CINDY TOOPES AND MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer
Clinical Director Lynelle Diers of Wapello County Public Health cautions those who might have the flu.
“If you’re sick, stay home,” Diers said Thursday. “Don’t go to work or to church.”
“There’s a portion of the population that believes the world won’t go on without them if they miss work,” agreed Jackie Greenfield, director of student health and wellness at Indian Hills Community College.
With 600 employees, the Ottumwa school district is one of the city’s larger employers.
“Many employees want to battle through it and be at work,” said Davis Eidahl, superintendent of Ottumwa schools. “But they were pretty responsible about staying home and not contributing to the spread.”
The flu epidemic that has put a stranglehold on the country means more people are getting flu vaccinations locally, according to Diers.
“By this time, we usually haven’t given any vaccinations,” she said Thursday. “Now we have a significant number of people coming in or calling us.”
That includes people from neighboring counties that ran out of the vaccine. And those people still getting vaccinated are being smart, said Greenfield.
“There are three strains of flu. The CDC tells us the vaccine protects against all three. So if you’ve been sick [from one strain], it still makes sense to get vaccinated [as protection from] the other two.”
Diers said her team is “here to serve the public,” and she’s glad to still have vaccine so she can continue to help sick patients.
Some of the other viruses going around include one that causes vomiting and diarrhea, another that’s “just a cold” and one called RSV, which affects children.
“It’s a respiratory virus kids can get, and the preemies can suffer,” Diers said. “The vaccine for that is expensive, too, and they’re at higher risk for the virus.”
Diers noted influenza isn’t vomiting and diarrhea, and people get it confused with other problems. One sign of influenza is a high temperature, which can go up to 104 degrees. Other signs include a cough, sore throat, joint and muscle ache, headache, chills and feeling very tired.
“A person who gets influenza knows they’re sick enough because they can’t get out of bed for some days,” Diers said.
Indian Hills saw more absenteeism among employees and even more among students.
“We were starting to see a high number of cases presenting with influenza-like symptoms [starting] December 10,” Greenfield said. “Then we went into Christmas break; that seemed to be really timely for us. Cases [have] leveled off.”
Eidahl said nearly the same thing.
“Right before Christmas break, it was getting pretty widespread,” he said. “We hit 10 percent absenteeism is some buildings. When you’re talking 4,600 students, that’s significant. At 10 percent, we have to report to [that] to the state.”
Both school organizations estimated for a while, absenteeism among students doubled. But it’s getting better.
“We aren’t at 10 percent anymore,” Eidahl confirmed.
Diers wants people to clean off mutual areas, remotes, the telephone and other items a family might share at home.
The Ottumwa school district takes that advice. Custodians have been told to disinfect water fountains and door knobs multiple times throughout the day.
“I hit all the elementary buildings today,” said Eidahl, “and in three of them I saw the custodians wiping down phones and key boards. Little things you don’t think about.”
“And, if you’re out in the public and notice people coughing,” Diers said, “distance yourself from them.”
Both nurses acknowledged there are people who are vaccinated that may still contract the flu, though usually a milder form. Not getting vaccinated is worse, though.
“Of our cases that [appear to be flu], 90 percent were unvaccinated,” Greenfield said.
Another reason to still get the vaccine from public health, a pharmacy or other health care provider?
“What I’m hearing,” said Greenfield, “is there could be a little surge again in February.”